It’s All About Character and a Boy’s Little Red Wagon

As posted on a Leadership Blog on Tributes to the Leadership of your Father, and as promised in my blog The Wisdom of my Mom and Dadwagon

My Dad was a successful, award-winning insurance sales manager for years in the 1960’s-1970’s. The company, due to its President W. Clement Stone, was a leader in positive thinking and affirmations before it became vogue – it was all about positive mental attitude. PMA baby, PMA.

Two of the books that the company gave out to its employees were by Mr. Stone – The Success System that Never Fails and Success Through a Positive Mental Attitude (co-author).

I Dare You by William Danforth
I Dare You by William Danforth

Mr. Stone also gave out William H. Danforth’s book I Dare You, and the first thing that book does is to dare you to read it cover to cover – right now. I have my Dad’s copy and my Grandfather’s copy of that book, and the others.

W. Clement Stone sold his first insurance policy at age 16 and started his own agency and national sales organization by the time he was 20.

Like Mr. Stone, my Dad started working as a pre-teen.

W. Clement Stone's "The Success System That Never Fails"
W. Clement Stone’s “The Success System That Never Fails”

Officially working that is. Dad had all sorts of entrepreneurial efforts as a young child growing up in rural Illinois. This included gathering corn cobs from where they were shelled at the grain elevator and selling them for starting fires in wood stoves. I learned my work ethic from my Dad, and this was a favorite story of mine growing up, still is.

Dad always tried to push harder. Dad’s little red wagon held four bags of corn cobs, but one day he tried to fit five bags into his wagon. He went to the local blacksmith shop where he always had luck selling his corn cobs, pulling his little red wagon, loaded to the brim with his corn cobs. The shop was all the way on the far corner of town.

boy with wagonThe whole way there, Dad struggled as his corn cobs kept falling off. Dad had to keep stopping to pick them up and put them back in his little red wagon. When Dad finally arrived at the blacksmith, utterly exhausted, with his little wagon in tow, the man said that he did not need any corn cobs today.


My Dad asked, No corn cobs? You don’t need any corn cobs?

No, said the blacksmith.

Do you think my Dad said o.k. and left, shoulders slumped, pulling his little red wagon full of corn cobs?

Nope, not my Dad.

My Dad, ever-then the budding salesman, did not take no for an answer. He convinced the man that he indeed did need the corn cobs. You can guess what happened. The man bought all five bags!

Perseverance pays off – never give up.

By the way, back then? The going price was a nickel a bag.

When Dad worked for the insurance company, they also gave out songs to its employees. Every morning my Dad would sing the song “I Feel Healthy, Happy and Terrific,” so much so that I even sing it to myself to this day. I used to sing it with him and still remember the smell of his shaving cream as I played in the hallway singing along with him while he shaved and got ready and motivated for the day.

My Dad was hiring folks who would work on pure commission, like him as a 100% commission sales manager. It was a tough job, with leads and literally driving around and going door to door. It required fortitude, perseverance and a strong work ethic. I was a lucky girl to have this example growing up. You can read in my blog post The Chosen Baby: One Little Girl’s Story of Adoption on how lucky I am to have been adopted by my Mom and Dad.

quoteMy Dad interviewed a lot of potential candidates in his position as sales manager, and he always asked them two questions. If you met your quota by Wednesday or Thursday, what would you do for the rest of the week? He also asked them, what is your definition of character?

The winning candidate was someone who would keep working through the end of the week as hard as they did up until meeting their weekly quota, and would not hit the golf course because they already had met their weekly goal.

I always have asked that same question to applicants who have applied to work in my department in my gigs.

I still remember Dad’s office in the basement. I remember his desk. All the insurance leads binders with the brown leather binders and big rings. I used to play with the binder rings and loved to play with all his trophies. I can see and hear my Dad making calls late into the night and having sales meetings with his sales team on the phone and coming over to meet with him as I quietly sneaked down the basement steps to listen and watch. I remember his green chair that I loved to sit in when he wasn’t already in it working.

I can smell it, taste it and feel the air. There was a lot of energy in the air, created by a lot of self-motivation and hard work.

My Dad led by example. Still does.

It’s all about the definition of character. And character defines my Dad.

My Dad went to work in maintenance at a school district in the 1980’s-1990’s. One day, an immigrant refugee from a war-torn country in Eastern Europe started work. On the man’s first day, my Dad told him “you come to work every day, no matter what.” He sure did listen to my Dad! When his supervisor asked the man why he came to work after having serious dental work done one day, the man told his supervisor that my Dad told him “come to work every day.” He was as hard working as my father.

powersDad took this man under his wing at work and also helped his family generally get their feet off the ground, as he did several others. He also helped others to get jobs at the school district, and it is so humbling to see what great things their families have done since they emigrated here.

To this day, this man’s family invites my Mom and Dad to everything to thank my Dad for his help getting them started. And all of them were at my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary – wild horses could not have dragged them away.

My parents taught me to work hard and always give back. It’s all about character and the rest will come. Without character, the rest does not matter.

You can do anything you want to do if you put your mind to it, know yourself and live your life with character. I use these lessons daily in my life. Thanks, Dad!

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